Many law schools are working hard to keep up enrollments and student credentials; some are indeed struggling. As deans and university leaders work hard to make adjustments on the expenses side in order to deal constructively with these difficult issues, there has emerged an almost daily narrative about how the sky is falling (which is isn’t).
The most recent iteration of this is the news emerging from a handful of schools that faculty members are being offered retirement incentives. Although I am in no vantage point to assess the wisdom of any of these strategies for any of these law schools, it strikes me as a sensible reaction to enrollment circumstances that are, for the most part, currently out of control for some law schools. The business of retirement incentives is not, of course, a new phenomenon. With the end of mandatory retirement, university departments can manage human resource costs only by looking at creative tactics such as retirement incentives. Sometimes this will involve more senior (and typically highly compensated) members of the community; other times, given the long careers ahead of young faculty members, this will involve incentives nearer the front end. These incentives create a dynamic of negotiation not distinct from any other sort of employer-worker negotiation. They are tried-and-true carrots, not sticks.
That law schools are looking to manage their costs by taking close looks at their faculty labor force seems entirely sensible. It is hardly the harbinger of disaster; and, like the press releases that are attached to these proposals, these are important messages to the wider community of students and alumni that the law schools are looking at constructive ways of preserving strong academic programs and high quality in their student bodies.
These should be welcome developments. Folks like our friends at Above the Law, who are habitually cranky about law school decisionmaking and the motivations of academic leaders, should say: “Hurray. It’s about time law schools take a hard look at costs.” But, instead, the headline of the day is essentially “Law Schools are Crashing Around Us. Witness the Scramble to ‘Kick Out’ Faculty Members.” Think I am exaggerating? Here’s a link to a post by the sober Pepperdine Law professor and influential blogger, Paul Caron.
Take a breath, doomsayers. Have some perspective. This is evidence of adaptation, not desperation. And you are not helping the general situation, IMHO!
Smart post by Prof. Muller at Pepperdine.
He points out that the current data shows that the principal brain drain is at the lower end of the LSAT distribution. For the most competitive students, including students who will be competitive at Northwestern and certain other schools, there has in fact been a slight to moderate uptick in the percentage of these students applying to law school.
None of this contradicts the central fact that law school applications are down nationwide, but it does illustrate the utility of more fine-grained data as we consider these matters.
from another prominent legal futurist, this time Jordan Furlong.
On the observation that regulation will wither away, this hasn’t been the path of legal change has predicted over many years. Regulation in the legal profession (and in legal education) has proved remarkably resilient, even in the face of competitive pressures. Just consider the stunning lack of bar reciprocity and also the various restrictions on pro se representation. Or, in the law school context, the limitations on supervised student representation, even where there are enormous unmet legal needs. So perhaps Furlong is right that regulation is under especially sustained assault and will crumble. But we shouldn’t count our chickens.
On the “creating new markets” message: yes indeed. I have written about this elsewhere on this blog. In the future — indeed, in the present — lawyers are entrepreneurs and regulatory engineers, business professionals and risk managers. The business of lawyering is going through significant change, and how JD holders can deploy their skills to improve structures and institutions and business decision-making is an essential modern question. Law is important for folks other than lawyers; and lawyers are important for business performance in spaces other than traditionally legal.
Engaged closely these days with strategic planning and developing innovations that will enhance the quality of a Northwestern legal education while also tackling the high costs and high debt of our students and graduates, we naturally turn our attention to how other schools are facing these challenges.
The wisdom of the law school crowds as a fertile source of guidance.
For at least the quarter century in which U.S. News rankings have perniciously influenced our functioning, the temptation and tendency of law schools was to follow the leader. Innovation was the exception, not the rule; law schools moved ahead with structural reforms incrementally, if at all. And, to one’s great surprise, reforms generally pushed toward business and educational models that looked very much like law schools ranked at or very near the top.
Everyone knows the next chapter: Law schools have found keeping up with the Harvards and Yales too expensive and insufficient attuned to the dynamics and needs of their professional contexts and student requirements.
A positive by-product of the present economic predicaments facing many American law schools, especially those at the top of the pecking order, has been fast-moving innovation and a refocus on the mission of the institution. With respect to employment in particular, many law schools have newly embraced their identity as regional law schools — as schools embedded in discrete regions of the U.S. and in service of the students who will likely seek careers in these regions. The regionalization of (most) U.S. law schools is a welcome development, if regrettable that it has taken severe economic pressures to push ahead these efforts.
on the role of the Association of American Law Schools, who I am privileged to served as president for 2014:
cross-posted from Prawfsblawg, where I am guest-posting for the next few days:
from a group of Harvard Law professors.
The reader can, without my help, think of various caveats about this study. (I will just mention one: there was a very selective group of employers surveyed).
Nonetheless, some interesting takeaways:
- Emphasis on business-related courses. Not only traditional business law courses, but also accounting & financial reporting;
- Intellectual property courses preferred. Three IP courses — survey course, patents, and copyright — on short list;
- Administrative law. Finally! Some validation of what I have been telling law students for two decades
Despite the limitations of the study, the general project of asking practicing lawyers what students should study in law school strikes me as a worthwhile one. Let’s see some more systematic surveys!
and, further, they say that they would do this again.
These and other interesting conclusions from major study conducted by American Bar Foundation researchers. Here is a short press report (with an unfortunate title, which rely belies the basic thrust of the study).
I will post more on the “After the JD” study anon.